Mother’s Hands / Arathi Devandran

The days continue to melt as I write this; events no longer a cause for concern, only moments, some longer, slightly more memorable than others. There is time now (whatever time means, a passing sense of…something), to focus on singular moments.

Like the sound the ceiling fan makes as it whirs constantly, mechanically, on a long, hot afternoon, the backdrop of meditation.

Or how my hands, scrubbed clean of fancy polish and bright colours, skin drying and peeling off the sides of stubby nails, a slender ring with the brightest jade the only accessory – how I have never noticed that my hands are exactly like my Mother’s, chocolate-coloured skin and protruding veins.

(Though my Mother will tell you that she has no veins left now; that repeated sessions of chemotherapy have collapsed them all, but still, she will say, she is grateful, happy even, that she has the chance to be alive)

The same hands, my Mother’s (or mine, I can’t tell the difference now) which scrub and clean and make a house, a home. Which tenderly arrange the ashen leaves of a eucalyptus plant in a vase, but only after they have stroked the side of the leaf, just so.

(Don’t you think the smell of eucalyptus is just so divine, she asks, taking a deep breath of the strong, heady smell of the wood. Yes, yes, I say. In my own home, I do the same, watching myself mirror her.)


Aunty P has sent over her chicken briyani recipe, together with videos showing a step-by-step process of how to go about making her revered dish.

At first, she is filming the process with one hand, with the other – she assembles the ingredients, points out the masalas, shows us the best way to de-seed and thinly slice green chillis. She is meticulous, soon she ropes Uncle S to help with the videos so that she can show us how to mix the yoghurt into the chicken, how to slow cook the tomatoes with the meat so that everything comes together like a symphony.

Her hands come in and out of the camera frame, her diamond ring on her left finger a gentle sparkle.

I watch, mesmerized, as much by the confidence of her hands, as by the alchemy of cooking.

I try to make my hands do the same thing, though I have neither the finesse or the expertise. I cut my finger accidentally, I get a mild steam burn from holding my hand too close to the boiling broth. My hands are burning slightly from the chilli seeds, and from the heat of the stove.

Finally, finally, the dish is prepared. The smell is intoxicating, and I am shaking, both from joy (a briyani! Our very own!) and exhaustion (the heat, the chopping, the chillis, the heat, oh the heat!). The unveiling happens; I take a video so that I can share it with Aunty P. Then, impatient, I shove a spoon in my mouth (it tastes perfect, it is sublime and hot and divine, yes!) and with this verdict, I send Aunty P a text, fangirling about how great it is, and thanking her profusely (thank you! thank you! thank you!).

“Any food made with love will taste wonderful.” She replies, and I can imagine her fingers typing this out on the phone, her mother hands, and my heart stutters with an emotion I do not yet have a name for.


Sometimes I think about having children (always fleetingly, a whisper of thought that doesn’t overstay its welcome) and I think about how I want my children (my daughter) to have my hands.

How as if, my hands can be a legacy that I can pass on, just like how the women in my family have passed on their hands to me. Wouldn’t that be grand, the passing on of limbs (who needs names, psht). Hands that can then find their own way around the world; that may find solace in the making of music, or mudras, or magic; that could tenderly curl into another’s hands, or not; that could have oil burns and chapped skin and bright polish to tell the tale of a life well-lived.

How I would hold the first tiny little finger and feel it wrap around mine, and finally let out a breath, at this arriving.

Arathi Devandran curates personal experiences, snapshots of the world and the stories people are willing to share with her through prose and poetry

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